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AAMC Submits Comments to NIH on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce

March 2, 2012—In a Feb. 24 letter , the AAMC submitted comments to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in response to a request for information to shape the recommendations of a new working group on diversity in the biomedical research workforce. The AAMC comments relate both to pipeline considerations external to the NIH, and factors internal to the NIH that play out during the application review process.

The AAMC applauds NIH for acknowledging that the status quo is unacceptable and designating a working group to provide concrete recommendations to the NIH director on how to create equitable opportunities for all investigators. The letter also commends the working group’s broad focus that extends diversity beyond underrepresented minorities to include persons with disabilities and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds.

 The letter describes that along the pipeline into a career in biomedical research, inequitable access to research infrastructure, financial resources, mentors and professional networks creates an uneven playing field for investigators. However, initiatives aimed at fostering fair conditions have had limited success. The AAMC suggests more rigorous evaluation of what works, for whom, and how, to create an evidence base to guide future investments in the pipeline.

The AAMC also strongly urges NIH to assess further and counteract the effects of unconscious bias within review committees. Furthermore, as NIH’s priorities evolve to encompass burgeoning fields such as comparative effectiveness, community-based participatory research and implementation science, the letter notes “they should value and reflect the population-relevant perspectives that diverse researchers bring to the process of discovery.”  

Finally, to strengthen first-time applications and increase resubmission rates, the AAMC recommends the development of an enhanced pre-submission support system, with peer-to-peer reviews and expanded opportunities for young scientists to participate on study groups.

The AAMC comment letter was developed with input from members of the Group on Diversity and Inclusion (GDI), Graduate Research, Education, and Training (GREAT) Group and Group on Research Advancement and Development (GRAND).

The NIH working group’s agenda is driven, in part, by findings of an Aug. 2011 study, “Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards.” After controlling for educational background, country of origin, training, previous research awards, publication record and employer institution characteristics, the authors found that black or African American applicants for R01 research grants are 10 percent less likely than white applicants to be awarded NIH funding.


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Washington Highlights, a weekly electronic newsletter, features brief updates on the latest legislative and regulatory activities affecting medical schools and teaching hospitals.

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Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806